pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11b: “The God of love and peace will be with you”.

As we return to Paul’s closing words in his second letter to the Corinthians, we focus in on God’s love and peace. Paul promises the church in Corinth that the “God of love and peace will be with you”. This promise remains true for us today.

Christianity does not have the corner on love and peace. People without faith have love in their lives. They fall in love and they feel loved. People without faith can also experience peace in their lives, although it seems a bit more elusive than love for the general population. I think that is because the source is different. Without God, you are the source of your peace. In that world, one only has peace when things are going well. In life though, one cannot control everything, so peace can become more elusive. The source of peace for the Christian is the God of love. In faith, peace and live are connected together. God is primarily love and once we have decided to declare Jesus as Lord, we become loved in a new and complete and unconditional love. It is a no-matter-what love. No matter what we do, God will not love us any more. No matter what we do not do, God will not love us any less. God’s love is an undeserved and unmerited yet total and complete and unchanging love.

As ones created in God’s image, as ones who know his love, we find a peace and contentment that eludes many in this life. Our peace is from God’s love. We know the one who loves us created all the world and is in control of all things. Because he loves us, God’s Spirit walks with us through all of life. God’s unending love brings us a peace that passes all human understanding. It is a peace that the world does not know.

Many of us are praying for peace in our world and in our nation. As we do so, may we keep in mind that it is all built upon knowing God’s love. This day may we seek to make God and God’s love known. Only then will peace between all peoples begin to take lasting roots. May the God of love rain down unconditional love. Peace will follow.

Prayer: Dear God, in all things and in all ways, you are love. God, this day may I be a conduit of your love. In that love may others find connection to you. Through a relationship with you, may our world find peace. Amen.


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Unconditional Love

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 25: “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else”.

As Paul begins to evangelize in Athens he wants to establish the differences between the idols the Athenians call “gods” and the one true God. Paul begins with the physical. He tells them that God was the creator of all things and is the giver of life. In verse 25 Paul writes, “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else”. God gives to us because he loves us. By contrast, the Athenians see idols as beings that need things – humans are the givers. They must go to the temple that the idol dwells in and offer gifts or sacrifices to please that god or to curry favor with it. Because God is the creator of all things and because God is the giver of all life, God is not found in just one place. God is everywhere. There are some distinct differences between God and idols.

God is also the architect. God planned and ordained all things. From the spread of humanity to its final judgment day, God has it all under his control. Because of this, Paul reminds them that humanity naturally seeks out the one who controls all things. At times we all have this sense of an all-powerful being or force. For those in the line of Abraham, we recognize God as this being. Because of that we do reach out and find him, as Paul says. We come to know God and then to know him better through the incarnation, through Jesus. In Jesus we see God’s embodiment lived out. Primarily that comes as love. We see it lived out in lots of ways: restoration, healing, forgiveness, sacrifice, grace, mercy, compassion…

Just as it was in his day, people continue to struggle to connect to Jesus. Often it is because they do not understand love. In the Athenian culture the idols were a focus of love. But these images of gold or silver or stone that were “images made by man’s design and skill” were incapable of love. Today some love similar things. We call them cars and cell phones and houses and such. Some say, “If you love me, you’ll…” They think love is something you can control and manipulate and buy.

Unconditional love, the love we find in Jesus, is not at all like that. It is freely given with no strings attached. It is offered without requirements or prerequisites. It considers others long before self. Unconditional love does not seek to trap or possess or control. It is giving and humble and generous. As children of God, as his offspring, as followers of Jesus, may we live for this love. May it fill us and flow out from us, into the world.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to find myself in you today. May love be my lead and my guide this day. Amen.


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A Big Love

Reading: John 13: 1-7 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus has spent three years in ministry with the twelve men gathered around the table. They have been witnesses to God’s love being lived out. At times they have certainly been recipients of that love. For the disciples that has most often come in the form of teaching and sometimes in gentle redirection. They have seen Jesus love as he heals, teaches, and welcomes the outsider and the marginalized. This night, Jesus’ demonstration of love is drenched in humility. As they gather and settle in for the Passover meal, Jesus strips down and washes the disciples’ feet – all twelve. He washes the feet of the betrayer. Judas is included. Of course he is – Jesus is love.

This example of love is unique. Jesus did not have to take on the role of lowly servant washing dirty feet. But he did. It was an object lesson for the disciples. It is one for us as well – especially the way Judas was included. In this we see that love is not conditional. Just as it would have been easier for Jesus to stoop and was the feet of just the disciples who would serve him until their deaths, we too find it much easier to love and serve those we love and are in good standing with. But that is not Jesus’ model. That is not Jesus’ kind of love. His command is: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus loved the faithful and the betrayer, the seekers and the doubters, the followers and the Pharisees, the women at the foot of the cross and the ones who put him on it. In his words and actions, Jesus says, ‘I loved them all’. As he speaks into our hearts each day, he says, ‘Go and do likewise’. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Lord, you give a tall order: love as you loved. That is a big love. Open wide my human heart to be more like your divine heart. Shape and form and stretch it to become just like your heart – loving one and all unconditionally. May it be so in me. Amen.


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God’s First Love

Reading: Micah 6: 1-3

Verse 2: “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”.

God is a god of relationship. All of the covenants, the agreements that give structure to the Bible, are all about living in right relationship with God. The fuel of relationship is love. We can see how love fuels a relationship when we look at marriage or parenting. In a marriage covenant we pledge to love no matter what – in sickness, in poverty… When we assume the role of parent we commit to loving our children unconditionally, no matter what they do or do not do. These models are human versions of the covenant love that God has for each of us, his children. But even these human models are lacking. The greatest marriage ever, for example, pales in comparison to God’s love for us.

In the opening verses of Micah 6 we can see that God is not happy. God calls on Israel to “plead your case”. He is calling them to task because they are failing miserably at their side of the covenant relationship. We have all had friendships and even relationships that have not lasted. Maybe it was because of them, maybe it was because of us, maybe it was both. One or both sides came to the conclusion that the relationship was not worth the effort to keep it sustainable. So the friendship or relationship ended. We have also all had or have friendships or relationships that we have invested in and developed and grown over time. They are so valued by us that we will even risk calling the other out when they are lacking in effort or commitment. In those cases we are saying that we love deeply enough to risk calling the other out.

In verse two today we read, “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”. Israel has not been keeping up their part of the covenant. God is calling them to task. It is a love that is unconditional so God calls on the mountains as witnesses to the case. They have been silent witnesses since the beginning of creation as the relationship between God and humanity has unfolded. The people Israel have been disobedient and God is calling them out. The relationship that is life-giving has become like a burden to the people. They have forgotten their first love. God has not forgotten. God never forgets us, his first love.

Prayer: Lord of all, as I think about this passage, I look within and I search for times when I have not loved you fully, for times when I have been disobedient. I find them too easily. And yet you love me, you call out to me. Against me too you could bring a charge. But you don’t. Help me to bring mercy and love to those who I could bring a charge. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Love Like Jesus

Reading: Luke 10: 25-28

Verse 25: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

An expert in the law comes to test Jesus and to justify himself. The lawyer wants to be right and to make Jesus look wrong. The man’s question is focused on something almost all people wrestle with: eternal life. In verse 25 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Instead of giving an answer, Jesus draws the lawyer deeper into the heart of the issue. Jesus doesn’t want to just give an answer, he wants to be able to unpack the answer as well. Jesus asks the man what he thinks. The self-righteous, arrogant lawyer takes the bait and he has the right answer. In the culture of the day, a young Jewish child could easily come up with this answer.

The man’s answer is our answer as well. The first step towards inheriting eternal life is to love God completely. One must love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once filled with the love of God, one is led to step two. One is naturally led to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus would go on to amend this too. In John 13:34 we are directed to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Jesus’ standard for love is one that is complete and unconditional. When one invests time studying Jesus in the Gospels, one finds the example of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus loved and ministered to every single person who came to him, from the lawyer in today’s passage to the prostitute to the widow to the tax collector to the hungry crowd to the lame, deaf, mute, leper… Not once did Jesus place his wants or needs ahead of another’s needs.

The lawyer’s question is personal and selfish: what must I do? He knows the two commands but is focused on self. The two commands do not involve the word “I”. Neither did Jesus’ understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. At times I can find myself asking the same selfish question as the lawyer. In those moments my concern for the other is minimal at best. My culture and my nature tends towards the selfish. The call, though, is to love God and to love neighbor. Daily the self must die so that I can love God and others unconditionally. As Jesus said, “Do this and you will live”. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your model of love is the one I strive for. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor fully and without hesitation. Kill the fleshy man within me. Build up my love for God and for others. Amen.


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Belong

Reading: Mark 3: 31-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Who do you belong to? Where do you get your sense of belonging? These are interesting questions. As I think back over the years of my life, I can think of many times when I felt a sense of belonging, a sense that there was genuine community. During summers, for about twenty years, I worked with a group of guys on a certain staining project. We shared a deep sense of comraderie that would return in an instant if we reunited after six years off. For many years a group of guys gathered on Sunday afternoon to play pick-up basketball. Many men came and went from that group, but there was a core group that was really close. And then was our church. Who do you belong to? Where do you belong?

As human beings we have a great need to belong. We are social creatures. That is how God designed us. In early childhood we begin to feel the need to fit in, to find a group of friends. This feeling stays with us our whole lives. Being alone and feeling alone are two of the greatest challenges facing many people today.

One of our natural places of belonging is our families. There we find a love and acceptance that is unconditional. It is the type of love that led Jesus’ mother and brothers to try and intervene to make sure that He was eating and taking care of Himself.

When they arrive to express this love, Jesus responds in a way that seems odd to us. He looks at the crowd gathered around Him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers”! Jesus goes on to explain, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. We do hope that He goes out to see them. And to give His mom a kiss. But we don’t know. We do understand Jesus’ point here. We have all experienced it in our lives. When we move to a new community, it is one of our biggest concerns – will I find a new church home? Often our strongest connections are within our community of faith. When I think about where I feel the greatest sense of belonging, it is my family and my church. In the church, all walks of life gather together as one body, united in Christ. It is here that we form loving relationships with one another and with our Lord. We belong in God’s family. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.


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Unconditional

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 5: Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Friends are important.  We want to be loved and to love others.  As human beings, we need and seek community.  We each want to fit in or have our place in a community.

Today’s first verse in our passage is a bit disconcerting.  God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  It is wonderful that God is preparing a table for us and that He will anoint us with oil and make our cup overflow.  But in the presence of our enemies?  Yes, in their presence too.  God’s love is universal.  All are created as a child of God and are dearly loved by their maker.  God calls us to love one and all as well.  We are not identical to each other and therefore we will have differences.  We even fight and argue occasionally with those we love the most.  So God is calling us to the table of His love with both our friends and our enemies alike, asking us to unconditionally extend His love to one and all.

In doing so we will naturally begin to break down some of the walls and barriers that we construct.  In loving our enemies as God loves them we begin to see them differently.  We begin to see the ways in which we are alike and ways in which God dwells deeply in them as well.  It can be profoundly transforming to love all people as God loves them.  When we do so, then “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

May we be bearers of God’s unconditional goodness and love today.


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Love for All

Reading: John 3: 16-17

These two verses summarize the love of God for mankind.  God sent His only Son for you and I.  God sent Jesus so that we could believe in Him and have a personal relationship with Him, so that one day we could share in eternal life with Him.  It is a wonderful example of love.  It was a great sacrifice.  It is the best gift the world could ever receive.  Just to be sure we understand the gift, the second verse reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

God’s unconditional and unlimited love is for the world, for everyone.  Whether or not one worships God, God loves us all.  Whether or not one lives according to God’s ways, God loves all of us.  God desires for each of us to step within His love to claim our birthright as a child of God.  God wants each of us to enter our eternal rest.  Jesus came to open the way to God for all people, to provide a path that all people can walk.  Jesus modeled the way to eternal life during His earthly ministry.  Just as God’s love is for all people, love guided Jesus in all He did or said.  This is how Jesus saves the world – through love.

Do all people accept God’s love?  No.  Do those who accept His love always follow God’s ways?  Nope.  Do those who strive to follow His ways live a life without sin?  Certainly not.  In spite of all this, God still loves us.  In spite of who we are at times, God does not condemn us.  God knows who and what we are and loves us anyway.  God knew who and what we were, and God still sent Jesus, so that through His sacrifice, we could all enter our eternal rest.  It is unconditional love and the ultimate sacrifice rolled up into the greatest gift we have ever been given.  It is a gift meant to be shared.

Each day, as we live out our life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, we are called to share this gift with others.  We are called to let the whole world know that God loves them.  We share the gift so that all may one day live in the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  To the ends of the world we go!